The Iraqi parliament wants to know
Members of Iraq’s parliament have some questions about security contractors arriving in Iraq. They’re worried that notorious mercenary firm Blackwater has, more or less, made its way back to Iraq.
“So far, the government has not briefed us on the arrival of private security firms for securing the highway between Anbar and Jordan, and we only heard about it from some members,” Niazi Meamaroglu, a member parliament’s security and defense committee, said in an interview with Almaalomah on Aug. 7, 2017.
Parliamentarians are reserving particular scrutiny for Olive Group, a UAE-based firm with ties to Erik Prince, who founded the private military company formerly known as Blackwater. The Iraqi government banned Blackwater from operating in the country after some of its employees opened fire on a crowded street at Baghdad’s Nisour Square in September 2007, killing 14 people and wounding dozens more.
Blackwater rebranded itself as Xe Services in February 2009. Prince announced his resignation as CEO a month later, although he remained as chairman for some time. In 2010, a group of private investors purchased Xe’s North Carolina training facility and again rebranded — this time as Acedemi.
In 2014 there was a merger between Triple Canopy—a part of the Constellis Group—and Academi, along with several other companies. They are now are now all gathered under umbrella of Constellis Holdings. A year later Constellis snatched up Olive Group. The firm was founded by former British infantry officer Chris St. George and his brother and is known to recruit former British military personnel in large numbers.
Olive Group has historically specialized in providing security to energy companies such as BP and Dutch Royal Shell. After merging with Constellis, St. George and his brother joined the Constellis board of directors and announced that the Olive Group was would expand its operations in Africa and the Middle East. “The merger will provide us with a deeper funding base and allow the business to expand into new areas,” St. George told The Telegraph. “The world is not getting a safer place.”
The Iraqi government has granted Olive Group contracts repair roads and bridges, build gas stations and oversee security along Iraqi the roadways. But these operations have made many Iraqis uneasy, especially given the complicated history of security contractors in the country—Blackwater in particular.
At top — a Blackwater helicopter over Baghdad in 2004. Photo via Wikipedia. Above — Erik Prince, at center. Photo via Flickr
The Blackwater guards involved in the Nisour Square shootings have consistently argued they had all acted in self-defense, but during a 2014 trial the jury found little credible evidence that they were under threat. The guards were found guilty of murder and attempted murder.
But on Aug. 4, 2017, a U.S. federal appeals court threw out the prison sentences of three Blackwater guards involved in the Nisour Square shootings and ordered a retrial for a fourth. These developments have only further stoked Iraqis’ suspicions of the new contracts, Olive Group’s in particular.
“Olive Group was recently selected to help deliver the Anbar Road project in combination with two Iraqi companies and regional partners,” the company insisted in a statement to the London-based New Arab. “The focus is to provide economic growth by establishing a critical border crossing into Jordan and a lifeline to provide goods and services into Iraq.”
Nabil Shaddad, a Lebanese-born American citizen who once worked for Olive Group, told the New Arab that the firm is an “Emirati version of Blackwater.”
“Blackwater has returned to work in the Middle East through two companies, Olive Group and [Reflex Responses], which operate out of Abu Dhabi and conduct strategic operations in the region,” Shaddad said. “Olive Group is the spiritual successor to Blackwater.”
Prince founded Reflex Responses after leaving Blackwater and relocating to Abu Dhabi, where he helped Emirati officials build a secret mercenary army made up largely of Colombian hired-guns and former South African soldiers. Mercenaries linked to Prince have also been spotted in Libya working with UAE-backed forces loyal to Gen. Khalifa Haftar. Lately Prince has been in the media promoting his plan to have mercenaries take over operations from the U.S. military in Afghanistan citing the East India Trading company as a precedent.
As early as July 2017, some Iraqi lawmakers were demanding that Abadi terminate Olive Group’s contract. “The committee has demanded the cancellation of recently signed contracts with security contractors – U.S.-based or not – and called for dependence on the Iraqi security forces instead,” parliamentarian Majid Al Gharawi said. “In the coming days, Abadi will come to discuss the return of Blackwater to Iraq under another name.”